Conversations with many old Lindens and Residents have led me to conclude that we have lost something of the old frontier feel. Like we were exploring the world together, you knew people, you would bump into them more.My time in Cloud Party over the past week brought back some of the nube wonder that infused my first year in Second Life. Every time I logged in, I bumped into people who were hanging out, rezzing stuff, toying with scripted objects and chatting casually with Cloud Party employees. The sense of frontier life was strong and invigorating. It inspired me to consider how Second Life lost its own frontier feel.
|2006 Cover Story on Second Life|
Between the launch of the Beta and a 2006 cover story in Business Week, Second Life grew to 125 square kilometers of virtual real estate and $5 million a month in user-to-user transactions. By the end of 2007 there were over a million active users, many of whom considered themselves to be digital people living significant virtual lives through pseudonymous avatar identities.
2008 marked the turning point from the frontier as Linden Lab shifted its path towards the corporate mainstream. Founding visionary Philip Linden stepped down as CEO and was replaced by ex-advertising agency executive Mark Kingdon. Linden Lab clamped down on the use of its trademarks, sparking an uproar in the Second Life business, education and blogging communities. The Second Life blog began looking more like a corporate mouthpiece than the informal and transparent communication it had been in the past. Prices on the popular OpenSpace sims were raised drastically without warning, spawning another wave of protest from community members.
In 2009 a new adult content policy segregated land with sexually explicit content into its own continent. Linden Lab purchased the two major independent virtual commerce sites and consolidated them under the corporate banner. An enterprise version of Second Life was launched as the new CEO made corporate customers a new priority.
The new approach crashed and burned in the summer of 2010 when an estimated 30% of Linden Lab employees were laid off. Mark Kingdon soon resigned as CEO and and the failed enterprise product was discontinued. EA executive Rod Humble was hired in 2011 as Linden Lab began to position itself to go after the mainstream market. In 2012 Linden Lab elected to not make its usual contribution of virtual land for the annual Second Life birthday celebration. Although the Second Life "residents" rallied together to create a brilliant exhibition, it's clear that Linden Lab is continuing its disengagement from the creative community.
In a future post, I'll consider whether Second Life can regain the frontier spirit at this stage in its life and how a small startup like Cloud Party might lead the way forward. For now, here's a short video documenting the Second Life website between 2002 and 2004. Just compare it to today's Second Life website and it's easy to see that Second Life is no longer positioning itself as a new frontier.